Paula Rettl

Paula Rettl

Ph.D. Candidate

Bocconi University

Welcome! I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the Department of Social and Political Sciences at Bocconi University (Milan). My research lies at the intersection of international political economy and comparative political behavior. I am fascinated by how the redistributive implications of broad societal changes—including economic globalization and environmental degradation—shape mass attitudes and behavior, often in unexpected ways. In my research, I look at material self-interest broadly, aiming at understanding how it intersects with political and social identities. My regional focus is on Latin America and Europe, where I have lived for extended periods. I apply cutting-edge research methods on both large-n observational data as well as original surveys and experiments I have conducted across a variety of national contexts. In my three-paper dissertation, I develop and test new arguments about the conditions under which material self-interest shape political attitudes and behavior in Brazil. My research has benefited from funding from Fondazione Roberto Franceschi.

In June 2020, I joined the Dondena Centre as a Research Associate for the ERC-funded LOSS project (PI: Catherine De Vries). The project analyzes how economic hardship fosters negative attitudes towards minority groups. I am also an affiliate at the COVID Crisis Lab. Previously, I have been a visiting research scholar at Nuffield College at the University of Oxford and the Department of Political Science at Yale University.

Before starting my Ph.D., I worked at the OECD, UNU-CRIS, and the European Policy Center. I also earned a MA in European Affairs with a concentration on Politics and Public Policy from Sciences Po Paris and a BA in Geography from the State University of Campinas (Unicamp).

Research projects

Turning Away From the State: Trade Shocks and Informal Insurance in Brazil

Abstract How does economic globalization affect vote choices? Conventional wisdom holds that voters who lose from economic integration support parties that propose to expand the welfare state. I argue that a key scope condition of this causal relationship is expectations about the state. In the global south, non-state organizations (such as churches and gangs) are often more credible providers of insurance than the state. In these contexts, globalization increases the effectiveness of ``organizational brokers'' in persuading local communities. To test this argument, I propose a new shift-share instrument that measures the exposure of Brazilian local labor markets to an exogenous decline in exports. By matching this instrument with electoral and survey data, I provide evidence that declining exports increased the power of Evangelical leaders to persuade their congregations to vote against parties that favor welfare-state expansion. My findings explain and describe the contingencies underlying the political consequences of globalization.

[Working Paper]

Presentations: APSA 2022 (scheduled), MPSA 2021, MPSA 2020 (cancelled), Status Workshop at the University of Zurich (August 2020), Conference on Populism in Latin America and Beyond at the King’s Brazil Institute (March 2021), ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops (session on Populism and Democracy) (May 2021).

Words Can Hurt: How Political Communication Can Change the Pace of an Epidemic

with Lucas Mariani and Jessica Gagete-Miranda

Abstract Do cues from political elites influence their constituents’ decisions about personal matters, such as health behavior? If so, why? Leveraging on a combination of natural and survey experiments, we study how President Bolsonaro’s dismissive stance towards COVID-19 in Brazil influenced the behaviors and o pinions o f his opponents and supporters. First, we exploit Bolsonaro’s sudden display of skepticism towards COVID-19 in a differences-in-differences design. We show that municipalities with a concentration of his supporters witnessed higher mobility levels, excess hospitalization, and mortality in subsequent days. Second, results of two survey experiments indicate that these pat- terns are explained by Bolsonaro supporters following his cues and a backlash among his opponents. Heterogeneous exercises regarding participants’ performance in a cognitive test and the strength of their political social identity provide evidence of the mechanisms. While heuristics drive the reaction of Bolsonaro opponents, willingness to comply with group norms explains the reactions of his supporters.

[Most recent version] [CEPR]

Media coverage (in Portuguese): O Globo, Foro de Teresina, CNN Brasil, Jovem Pan, Revista Época.

Presentations: LACEA’s Impact Evaluation Network Webinar on Impacts of COVID-19 in Latin American and Caribbean, REAL (The Rangel Economic Analysis Lab) at Duke University, MPSA 2021, Dept. of Political Science at Washington University at St. Louis (2022), Leitner Political Economy Seminar at Yale Univeristy (2022).

Hot Takes: The Divergent Effects of Wildfires on Support for Green Political Platforms in Brazil

with Silvia Pianta

Abstract As the climate crisis worsens, it becomes increasingly important to understand how voters respond to first-hand experience of natural disasters. Conventional wisdom holds that exposure to natural disasters fosters environmental concern, thereby increasing support for green parties and candidates. We argue instead that exposure to wildfires increases support for green candidates only when the perceived costs outweigh the benefits. While fires have unambiguously negative health effects, their economic implications are contingent. In areas where fires destroy natural vegetation, newly "cleared" land may represent an opportunity for land grabbing and ranching. We source satellite, administrative and electoral data from Brazil and use them in two different identification strategies. Our results show that exposure to fires increases support for the main green candidate only in municipalities with low levels of employment in sectors that are likely to benefit from land grabbing. Our findings shed light on the distributional implications of climate change and their political consequences.

[Working Paper]

Presentations: APSA 2022 (scheduled), Climate Pipeline Conference, ISA 2022, MPSA 2022, EPSA 2022.

Geographies of Discontent: How Public Service Deprivation Increased Far-Right Support in Italy

with Simone Cremaschi, Marco Cappelluti and Catherine De Vries

Abstract Electoral support for far-right parties is often linked to specific geographies of discontent. We argue that public service deprivation, defined as poor access to public services at the local level, helps explain these patterns in far-right support. Public service deprivation increases the appeal of far-right parties by making people more worried about immigration and increased competition for reduced public services. We examine our argument using three studies from Italy, a country home to some of the most electorally successful far-right parties in the past decades. We examine cross-sectional data from municipalities (study 1), exploit a national reform forcing municipalities below a certain population threshold to jointly share local public services (study 2), and explore geo-coded individual-level election survey data (study 3). Our findings suggest that public service deprivation helps us better understand geographical differences in far-right support and the mechanisms underlying it.

[Working Paper]

Presentations: APSA 2021, MPSA 2022, Workshop on Theories of the Contemporary Divide in Western Societies at the EUI (2022), EUSA 2022.

An Anti-Feminist Backlash? Female Labour Market Participation and Gender Conservatism in Europe

with Simone Cremaschi and Catherine De Vries

Abstract This study examines how increased participation of women in the labor market affects egalitarian gender attitudes in society. We argue that increased female labor market participation might generate a anti-feminist backlash, because it triggers grievances for certain men and women. For men, increased female labor force participation intensifies competition in the labor market, especially among those who are already economically vulnerable (labor market compe- tition channel). For women, increased female labor force participation might be also be threatening when they are not financially independent or married and thus worry about the employment of men in their household (household accounting channel). We test these conjectures in two studies. The first study uses European Social Survey data to show the relationship between increased labor market competition of women and more gender conservative attitudes. The second study outlines a survey experiment that aims to examine how be- ing primed about the female labor force participation triggers labor market competition fears among men and women who are not financially independent or married. We conclude that increased labor market competition of women generated a backlash in Europe, but that this is not only driven by a male backlash, but also by certain women.

Draft available upon request

Presentations: MPSA 2022, EPSA 2022.

The Political Consequences of Ageing Societies: Inter-Generational Polarization & COVID-19

with Catherine De Vries and Francesco Billari

Abstract Advanced industrial societies are undergoing an unprecedented societal transformation due to population ageing. The proportion of people of working age is shrinking as the share of older people is rapidly increasing. While age effects in political behavior and preference formation are well documented in the literature, we know much less about the political consequences of demographic changes. While demographic processes are generally slow, the COVID-19 pandemic has put intergenerational solidarity under strain. While mortality rates were much lower for younger generations compared to older ones, a significant part of the burden associated with non-pharmaceutical interventions fell on the young. In order to understand the extent to which long-term demographic changes and the immediate impact of COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to spark political conflict across generational lines, this paper develops a theory of intergenerational polarization. Our argument is that while population ageing has the potential to spark off political conflict across generational lines because it increases competition over public resources, but this only happens when a society’s age structure makes the mobilization of this resource competition electorally attractive for political entrepreneurs. During a crisis, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, when public resources are scarce, the likelihood of inter-generational polarization increases. Empirical evidence from three empirical studies, examining existing survey data from over 20 European countries as well as novel experimental and textual data from the Italian context, supports our theoretical conjectures. The evidence suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has increased intergenerational polarization in Italy and may have long-lasting consequences for intergenerational solidarity in other countries as well.

Draft available upon request

Presentations: EPSA 2021, EUSA 2022.

Work in progress

Churn or choice? Economic and policy motivations of bureaucratic turnover and the 2002 election of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva

with Tainá Souza Pacheco, Julio Ramos Pastrana and Anthony Michael Bertelli

Threat perceptions and anti-immigration attitudes

with Chiara Allegri

Funded by Fondazione Roberto Franceschi.

Chapter in edited volumes

Rettl, P. (forthcoming). “Economic Globalization and Populism in Latin America and Beyond” . In Anthony Pereira, ed. Right-Wing Populism in Latin America and Beyond. London and New York: Routledge.


You can contact me at paula [dot] rettl [at]